Flashback: 1978 the year the Milwaukee Brewers announced themselves as contenders
This feature was written for the July 9, 2003 Turn Back The Clock Night.
Nineteen seventy eight. The year rookie Paul Molitor, slugger Larry Hisle, slick-hitting Ben Oglivie and manager George Bamberger arrived in Milwaukee along with one of sport's coolest logos.
And the year the Milwaukee Brewers announced themselves as contenders.
The Brewers finished 93-69 in 1978, a 26-game improvement from the year before. County Stadium was a fun place to catch a ballgame.
"That was really the year we started to become a contender-type team," said longtime Brewers bullpen coach Bill Castro, who pitched for the Brewers from 1974-1980. "We brought in a lot of good guys and had George Bamberger take over."
Twenty-five years later, "Bambi's Bombers" are being remembered. Turn Back the Clock Night is Wednesday, July 9, and the Brewers look back 25 years to the team that announced Milwaukee's status as a bona fide contender. The 2003 Brewers will face the Pirates at 7:05 p.m. CT.
The vintage uniforms -- pinstripes and the baseball glove-shaped "M and B" logo, will feel familiar to Castro, who posted a career-best 1.81 ERA in 42 relief appearances in 1978. Castro, then 24, went 5-4 with eight saves for a staff that found success with a "bullpen by committee" approach; only left-hander Bob McClure had more saves with nine.
"I know I had a good year that season because I got the ball a lot," Castro said. "I was the kind of pitcher who needed the ball a lot to stay sharp, and I got it often that year."
Castro & Co. in the bullpen saw few save opportunities partly because of the Brewers' outstanding starting staff, who worked a Major League-best 19 complete games. Lefty Mike Caldwell, now Milwaukee's Triple-A pitching coach, led the starters with a 22-9 record and 2.36 ERA in his first full season with the Brewers. Twenty-two-year-old Lary Sorenson, one of three Brewers All-Stars that season, finished 18-12 with a 3.21 ERA and Jerry Augustine and Bill Travers also finished with double-digits in wins.
But as good as the pitching was, "Bambi's Bombers" were known for offense. They led the Major Leagues with a .276 team batting average, 173 home runs and 804 runs scored.
Seven players finished the year with double-digit home run totals including All-Star Larry Hisle, a current member of the Brewers community relations department who belted a team-best 34 homers, tied for fourth-best in the Majors, to go with 115 RBIs. Gorman Thomas slugged 32 homers, making Milwaukee the only team in the Majors with two 30-plus home run men.
But it was not an all-or-nothing club. Cecil Cooper batted .312 and Ben Oglivie hit .303 to lead the game's best offensive club. Don Money hit .293 and became the first Brewer ever voted to the starting lineup of the midseason All-Star team. Robin Yount hit a then-career-best .293 with nine homers and 71 RBIs and Molitor, a 21-year-old rookie, hit .273 in 125 games and was named American League rookie of the year.
"Nobody acted like a superstar," Castro said. "Guys like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor would hit a ball right back to the pitcher and still run hard to first base."
The Brewers finished in third place in the AL East, 6 1/2 games behind the eventual World Champion Yankees and 5 1/2 behind the second-place Red Sox but better than any team in the AL West division. Bamberger was named manager of the year, Bud Selig was named executive of the year and Harry Dalton was named general manager of the year.
"It was fun playing the game," said Castro, who would play two more seasons in Milwaukee before moving on to the Yankees and Royals. "We had a lot of fun with it both on and off the field and we really pulled for each other."
The Brewers hope Turn Back the Clock Night rekindles some of those old memories. Players will sport the uniform of the day, and prices will roll back. Terrace reserved, terrace box and bleacher seats are half-price, Bernie's Terrace tickets are $1 each and hot dogs and small sodas are also $1 each, compliments of Pick 'n Save.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.